A juror who prevented Parkland killer Nikolas Cruz from getting the death penalty for killing 17 people and injuring another 17 has defended her actions.
Cruz, 24, will spend the rest of his life in prison without parole after the deliberations of a Florida jury of seven men and five women ended in a split decision.
The holdout juror was later joined by two other jurors in refusing to vote for executing Cruz, according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told WFOR that he did not vote for the life sentence, but that the female juror could not be swayed to support execution.
“There was one with a hard no. She couldn’t do it. And there was another two that ended up voting the same way,” he told the station.
He later told Local 10 News, that he was “not happy with how it worked out.”
“Everybody has the right to decide for themselves,” he said. “We waited overnight for people to sleep on it, but if a juror had a hard [view] that they are only going to vote one way, there’s nothing else you can do,” he added.
The Sun-Sentinel has reported that the holdout juror, identified as Denise Cunha, of Pembroke Pines, Florida, sent a hand-written letter to Judge Elizabeth Scherer explaining herself.
In it, she denied claims among the jury pool, “stating that I had already made up my mind on voting for life before the trial started.”
“I maintained my oath to the court that I would be fair and unbiased,” she reportedly told the judge. “The deliberations were very tense and some jurors became extremely unhappy once I mentioned that I would vote for life.”
One juror, who has not been named, told Local 10 News that he voted to execute Cruz.
“I voted for the death penalty. We did go back there and try to hash things out. There was one juror that was just very set in what she believed and that was the life (verdict),” he said.
The jury’s decision has been widely criticised, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis saying that it “stings.”
“I think that if you have a death penalty at all, that this is a case where you’re massacring those students with premeditation and utter disregard for basic humanity, that you deserve the death penalty,” he said.
And his rival for the job in November’s election, Democrat Charlie Crist, agreed.
“There are crimes for which the only just penalty is death,” he said on Twitter.
“The Parkland families and community deserved that degree of justice.”